Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self- acceptance.
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I have always felt more like an outsider than an insider, more observer than participant.
I have spent my life searching for just the right friends or group that I could feel acceptance, be myself, not feel alone — belong.
The very word itself is interesting. BE — to exist, LONG — strong wish or desire.
That feels accurate and heavy at the same time. Me looking for someone, something to affirm that I exist. To know in this present moment that I am not just alive, but that I matter.
When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time by myself. My dad was usually gone, mom liked her space and my brothers were off doing their own living. What I didn’t know or understand at the time was that I created this belief inside of me that I must not matter because no one wanted to be with me. It created this dark space inside of me, shrouded in shame, wondering if the problem was me. I didn’t understand that by accepting this belief, I was rejecting myself.
So I went searching for just the right people, the ones that could see me and validate me, but there was always some glaring “flaw” that would reveal itself in these people and provide me with a reason to run away — really I was fleeing from intimacy. I was ruled by opposing desires — a longing to connect and fear that connection would lead to rejection.
When I could never seem to find these elusive friends to validate me, I began looking for the perfect groups. What about church, running groups, athletic clubs, Bible study? I even went to a conference called the Belong Tour, thinking surely I would find connection and acceptance there. Maybe I could find the missing piece and steer my life down a different path. It ended up being one of those alone-in-a-crowd-of-people experiences, trying to look like I was confident and content but cringing on the inside. Looking at all the other women there with friends, family, large groups, small groups — laughing, hugging, talking. And then there was me, myself and I, telling myself that here I am at a conference on belonging and I don’t even belong here!
It was disheartening, to say the least. I came up with a list of reasons why the conference was ridiculous, displaying all my defense mechanisms, knowing that if I was critical of the conference then I wouldn’t have to turn my criticism on myself. That inner voice that likes to accuse me, to tell me that I am the common denominator. I am the reason I don’t belong anywhere and never will. I’m pretty sure I say worse things to myself than anyone else in my life has. I have definitely been my own worst enemy. Not just because I am harsh with myself but because I have been the source of my own rejection. The very thing I fear others will do to me, I do to myself. Rather than comfort myself, love myself, be compassionate with myself– I have been demeaning and negative. I have been the source of my unbelonging because I have refused to give myself the acceptance that I wanted others to give me.
Brene Brown writes in, Braving the Wilderness “Once we belong thoroughly to ourselves and believe thoroughly in ourselves, true belonging is ours.”
This has reverberated in my heart because I know it’s true. All my attempts at belonging have failed not because I don’t matter but because I have chosen to believe that I don’t matter. I have been looking for other people to provide for me what I have been unwilling to provide for myself. I have not belonged to myself because I have spent a lifetime rejecting myself, telling myself that I am not enough — smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, captivating enough, athletic enough. I have not belonged to myself every time that I have submerged my feelings and ignored them. I have not belonged to myself every time I have been hungry or tired but I pushed away my needs. I have chosen not to believe in myself because I have chosen other people’s validation over knowing my intrinsic value, fear of rejection over courage to just be myself, and confusing my mistakes for who I am as a person. I have chosen to believe that the core of who I am is not worthy of love, time and attention.
However, I am learning that I chose those beliefs, even if unknowingly, which means I can choose new beliefs. I am ready to try something new, my old ways of thinking and doing have not been good for me. My defense mechanisms have really just wounded me rather than protected me. I am uncertain exactly how to implement belonging to myself, but I believe what I am doing right now is part of that process. Welcoming people into my mess and facing my fears of how people will respond is part of my work. The other part will be how I choose to respond to myself when I make a mistake, when people don’t approve of me, when I have needs that rise to the surface. I am ready and willing to belong to myself — to connect not just with my mind, but also with my heart and body. I am ready and willing to believe in myself — that there is love and light inside of me that I have to offer the world, that I have chosen to hide away because of shame. But instead of rejecting myself, I now reject the shame.
I am ready and willing to be brave — to choose love over hate, compassion over criticism, healing over hiding and forgiveness over resentment. The truth is that we all belong, but we cannot find belonging with each other until we belong to ourselves first.